FOR years, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, has been playing with diplomatic fire over a sordid part of wartime history: the herding of thousands of women across Asia into Japanese-army brothels. An investigation he ordered into a landmark apology to the “comfort women” might have helped end the controversy. Instead, it has further muddied the waters. That may indeed have been Mr Abe’s intention.
The 1993 apology, known after its author as “the Kono statement”, acknowledged the army’s role in forcing women into sexual slavery. Nationalists say the women were prostitutes who volunteered. They demand the statement’s withdrawal, while the Yomiuri, Japan’s most popular newspaper, has called for it to be changed.
On June 20th a government panel set up by Mr Abe said the facts used to draft the statement were accurate and there are no plans to change it. But the panel also revealed that it was the product of months of secret negotiations with South Korea. The diplomatic record reveals protracted discussion on the level of coercion used, with Japan implying some women may have gone to brothels voluntarily.
The Yomiuri cites the report as evidence that the Kono statement is full of problems. Koichi Hagiuda, a special aide to Mr Abe, has led the backlash, demanding that Mr Kono explain himself to the parliament, the Diet. But South Korea is also angry at what it sees it as another attempt to corrode the Kono statement’s credibility. Cho Tae-yong, a deputy foreign minister, accused Japan of “egocentrically” editing the record of what had been discussed.
In his first term as prime minister in 2007, Mr Abe raised hackles by denying there was proof comfort women were coerced. But this March, under pressure from America, which badly wants to mend relations between Japan and South Korea, he pledged not to revise the statement. On issues involving Japan’s wartime past, Mr Abe often seems torn between his nationalist instincts and diplomatic necessity.
A group of South Korean former “comfort women”, who worked in state-controlled brothels for the US military after the 1953 Korean War, has filed a suit demanding compensation from the authorities for forced prostitution.
It’s the first time that such legal action has been taken regarding the brothels, or “special areas” that were sanctioned by the South Korean government, The Asahi Shimbun media outlet reported. The women are seeking 10 million won ($9,850) for being made to serve as “US military comfort women” after the Korean War ended in 1953.
The suit, filed on June 25, stated that the South Korean authorities subjugated the women and forced them to provide sex, violating their human rights. Moreover, the group said that they had been obliged to go through medical check-ups for sexually transmitted diseases. The plaintiffs also urged the authorities to issue an official apology, revealing the true historical facts.
North Korean nurses captured by South Korean and US soldiers. Captured North Korean women were sometimes raped and forced to work as sex slaves.
The Korean War lasted from 1950 till 1953 and split the country in two. During the war, the US intervened as South Korea’s ally, while China were allies of the North. Throughout the war, UN and South Korean comfort stations operated on the frontline. However, even after hostilities had ended, between the 1950s and 1960s, some 60 percent of all South Korean prostitutes worked near US military camps. In 1960, two lawmakers in the South Korean National Assembly called on the country’s leadership to train a supply of prostitutes for the allied military, to prevent them from spending their money in Japan instead.
The simple statue in this Los Angeles suburb represents justice not yet served, says Kim. But to others, it also symbolizes an open wound of war between the three East Asian countries, and has triggered a local, legal battle some see as a microcosm of lingering, international tensions. The story of the statue began with the passage of U.S. House Resolution 121 in 2007, which urged the Japanese government to "formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces' coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as 'comfort women.'"
In 1993, the Japanese government issued a brief statement acknowledging the existence of comfort women and expressing remorse for what they endured. In 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was pressured into issuing an apology after first denying there was any evidence of women being coerced into sexual service during WWII. But he stopped short of meeting victims' and advocates' demands that Japan acknowledge its military was responsible.
The City Council of Glendale received hundreds of protest emails from Japan. A group of Japanese Americans have now filed a lawsuit to remove the statue, arguing the city government has infringed on the federal government's right to conduct foreign policy. 90-year-old Michiko Gringery, the lawsuit's lead plaintiff, says the statue ruins relations with Japan, especially for Glendale’s sister city program with Higashiosaka, Japan. She says she does not understand why the statue has to be in America. “It’s between Japan and Korea war time," said Gringery. "America has nothing to do with it.” Gringery says she was a little girl during the war, and did not even know about comfort women until the issue of the Glendale statue was raised.
Aaron Caplan, Constitutional Law Professor at Loyola Law School in L.A., says the lawsuit will not likely hold up. “The U.S. constitution puts the national government in charge of foreign policy, but a local government's choice of artwork for a city park does not fall within the constitution's vision of foreign policy,” Caplan said. “The City of Glendale has the power to choose which artwork it will display on its property. If individual citizens of Glendale don't like the artwork the City has chosen, they can use the local political process to try to change it. They don't have a legal basis to force a federal judge to change it."
Philippine women who work at many of the bars within the Songtan Entertainment District made up a large portion of the protest rally held outside the main gate of Osan Air Base, South Korea, June 14, 2013. They were protesting the 51st Fighter Wing command's decision to make some bars off-limits Armando R. Limon/Stars and Stripes
Two years after the U.S. State Department cited Korean “juicy bars” for suspected human trafficking, U.S. Forces Korea is promoting a video acknowledging that the bars routinely patronized by thousands of American soldiers encourage the sexual exploitation of the young hostesses who work there. A public service video recently posted on the YouTube page of USFK’s Public Affairs Office states unequivocally that “buying overpriced drinks in a juicy bar supports the human trafficking industry, a form of modern-day slavery.”
The bars are primarily staffed by Philippine women who are imported to flirt with servicemembers and encourage them to buy expensive juice drinks — usually about $10 each — in exchange for more time to talk and flirt. A 2009 Stars and Stripes investigation found that “juicy girls” who fall short of juice-sale quotas are sometimes forced by club owners to prostitute themselves to make up the revenue difference — a practice known as “bar fining.” In addition, some of the juicy girls arrange to meet customers outside of work, where they strike sex-for-cash deals or pose as girlfriends who then hit the men up for money, purportedly to send home or pay off debts.
The U.S. State Department, in its 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, referenced the plight of women who work at the juicy bars near U.S. military facilities as one of its ongoing human trafficking concerns in South Korea. The recently-posted USFK public service announcement — which aired earlier this year on AFN — puts juicy bars under a much harsher spotlight. “Right now, young women are being lured to Korea thinking they will become singers and dancers,” the narrator says. “Instead, they will be sexually exploited in order to support their families.”
In 2010, then-USFK commander Gen. Walter Sharp said, “The bottom line is that juicy bars … have women that are there to talk to soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines. You can’t presume that things go beyond that, which is what you would have to do if you want to put them (all) off-limits.” Instead, USFK officials maintain they are doing all they can to make sure that juicy bars frequented by U.S. servicemembers are operating legally. “(USFK) opposes prostitution, forced labor and any activities that contribute to trafficking in persons,” USFK officials said in a statement provided in response to queries from Stars and Stripes. “According to (USFK) policy, all personnel are required to respect Korean laws or risk apprehension, trial and confinement.”
A group of Japanese "patriots" are travelling to the United Nations in Geneva to demand that the UN Commission on Human Rights admits that comfort women were nothing more than prostitutes, and to insist that the organisation stops using the term "sex slaves".
The delegation, from Japanese Women for Justice and Peace and the Alliance for Truth About Comfort Women, plan to observe proceedings of the Committee of Civil and Political Rights over three days from Monday. The group will also host a reception at the four-star Hotel Bristol to get their message across to delegates at the UN event. "We are not nationalists, but patriots," Yumiko Yamamoto, president of Japanese Women for Justice and Peace, said in Tokyo yesterday. "We do not discriminate against other people, but we love Japan very much."
Yamamoto's organisation was set up to counter what it sees as racist and discriminatory depictions of the comfort women as being forced to serve as sex slaves by the Japanese military in the second world war, primarily by groups and the government in South Korea but also by China. She suggested that if South Korea believed Japan had a case to answer it should take it to the International Court of Justice. China, she said, had only stepped into the argument in the last year and cannot take the moral high ground as it "is the world's worst violator of human rights". "Comfort women were not sex slaves but wartime prostitutes who enjoyed spending time freely and who worked under contract in exchange for highly paid monetary reward for that time," Yamamoto said.
"The stories of so-called comfort women lack any substantial evidence and cause doubts about their truth," Yamamoto said. "Based on these facts, it is right to conclude that the Coomaraswamy report no longer has any value." Yamamoto said she did not deny that comfort women existed, but she claimed the propaganda that was being spread about the actions of the Japanese military in procuring the women was "ruining the dignity of Japan and threatening the security of Japanese ... in the US".
Citing a letter she received from a Japanese woman in Glendale, California, where a statue depicting a comfort woman was placed in a public park, Yamamoto said Japanese children were being bullied and a target of hatred because of the statue. "It has no value at all and only serves to promote confusion and racism," she said. "The UNCHR has received so many reports saying so many bad things related to comfort women and they have taken it all at face value," Yamamoto said. "International organisations are receiving the wrong information and this is spreading. Unless we do something now, we will never be able to clear Japan's name."